Airing it out
Ken Fowler | Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Notre Dame’s offense answered any questions about a post-USC letdown Saturday, breaking a slew of school records en route to a 49-23 victory over Brigham Young.
For the second straight year, BYU’s 3-3-5 defense dared the Irish to put the ball in the air, and this time Notre Dame’s junior quarterback proved too much for the BYU defense to handle.
“Regardless of coverage zone, man or combination, Notre Dame’s passing game was better than our coverage in every instance today,” BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Quinn completed 32-of-41 passes for 467 yards and six touchdowns. His six touchdowns broke his own school record of five, set against Michigan State Sept. 17.
“I really don’t get caught up in records, but Brady did a lot of things well today,” Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. “I thought he played a nearly flawless game.”
Quinn’s top two targets on the afternoon, senior Maurice Stovall and junior Jeff Samardzija, caught 24 passes combined in the game – a record for a Notre Dame receiving duo.
Stovall finished with 14 receptions for 207 yards and four touchdowns. Samardzija caught 10 passes for 152 yards and two scores.
“We just tried to get them the ball and let them do what they do best,” Quinn said. “Mo, Jeff and the rest are all tremendous with the ball in their hands and get a lot of yards after the catch.”
Stovall and Samardzija – both stand at 6-foot-5 – took full advantage of their height, making leaping catches downfield as the Irish moved the ball with ease against the man-to-man coverage of BYU’s secondary.
“There were one-on-one match ups that we were willing to take,” Quinn said.
Quinn’s sixth touchdown pass Saturday, a quick out to Stovall on the left side, gave the Irish a 42-23 lead. Stovall caught the ball at the line of scrimmage near the left hash mark and beat the Cougar defense to the end zone.
At the game’s outset, after BYU took an early 3-0 lead, Notre Dame began its offensive onslaught with a 62-play, 8-yard drive. T Irish rarely huddled and maintained a 5-receiver set with an empty backfield until Quinn found Stovall for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Mendenhall said his team did not adjust well to Notre Dame’s spread offense, especially with regards to Stovall.
“I was a little surprised early by the number of empty formations and quick throws,” he said. “We never really took that away from them.”
Though the Irish offense clicked on all cylinders, a shaky defensive performance kept the game close until late in the third quarter.
“Our defense was up and down today,” Weis said. “At times, BYU was moving the ball at will.”
Brigham Young quarterback John Beck led the Cougars on a 7-play, 63-yard drive and found Todd Watkins for a 10-yard score with 5:38 left in the third to cut the Notre Dame’s lead to 28-23. Beck finished the game 26-of-45 with 317 yards, two touchdown passes and a rushing score. Irish safety Tom Zbikowski intercepted the two-point conversion attempt, keeping the Cougars two scores behind.
“It really wasn’t easy because the game was closer than the final score may indicate,” Weis said.
After the BYU touchdown, Quinn said it was time to put the game out of reach and told his teammates the same thing.
“When they cut it to five, it was expressed that we need to stop messing around and get things going the way they were in the first half, put some points on the board,” Quinn said.
Quinn needed just two plays and a defensive penalty to respond to Beck’s drive and give the Irish a 12-point cushion. Quinn connected with running back Darius Walker on a screen pass for a 37-yard gain and then hit Stovall deep over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
The series lasted just 51 seconds and was typical of the fast-moving Irish offense all game.
Notre Dame ran a wide-open offense until late in the fourth quarter and lost the time-of-possession battle for the first time all year. The Cougars had the ball for 33:39, four minutes more than any other Irish opponent this year.
Irish cornerback Mike Richardson, who lost a fumble after intercepting a Beck pass in the first quarter, said the defense wore down at the end of the game.
“We definitely felt it,” he said.
Zbikowski picked off a Beck pass and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown mid-way through the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
Weis said he expected the unbalanced offensive attack and concentrated on the passing game to exploit BYU’s tendency to blitz several linebackers.
“It’s funny because the guy from NBC at halftime came up to me and said, ‘You going to run the ball in the second half?’ And I said, ‘Not if they keep blitzing,'” Weis said. “They look at me like I’m stupid. I’m looking at them like they’re stupid. I don’t know who is right or wrong.”
For Weis, it was his first win at Notre Dame Stadium after becoming the first Irish coach in 109 years to lose his first two home games.
“It feels real good [to win at home], especially coming off an emotional loss,” Zbikowski said.